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Teets: Air Force's biggest challenge is recapitalizing the fleet

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 25, 2005) -- During a roundtable discussion at the Pentagon March 22, the acting secretary of the Air Force discussed space, the F/A-22 Raptor and business ethics.

Peter B. Teets retired from public service March 25. He held additional titles, including Department of Defense executive agent for space and director of the National Reconnaissance Office. During the roundtable, held just before his departure, Mr. Teets told reporters that his government work has been rewarding, but demanding.

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"We have a wonderful team in the national space arena. I have built some strong friendships and relationships, and I will miss them," Mr. Teets said. "I have found this job to be very demanding, but very rewarding. (It is) rewarding in the sense that I think our national space systems are making a huge difference in the way we are able to conduct intelligence and warfighting operations."

During his tenure as DOD's executive agent for space, Mr. Teets had his hand in several key programs, including space radar, the space-based infrared system, the advanced extremely high frequency satellite system and the transformational communications architecture.

Space radar is designed to give ground commanders of all services an eye-in-the-sky view of what is on the ground around them or over a mountain top. The system will be able to produce high-quality synthetic aperture radar imagery, as well as surface moving target indications, Mr. Teets said.

The space radar program has suffered scrutiny on Capitol Hill, but Mr. Teets said he has responded to that scrutiny with positive actions to streamline the program and move it forward.

"One of the things we have done this year for the space radar system is propose that we have a national radar collection system that will serve both the needs of the (Central Intelligence Agency) and the Department of Defense," he said.

The first operational satellite of the system will be fielded about 2015, Mr. Teets said. As part of an effort to restructure the space radar program, Mr. Teets directed the program's headquarters be moved to Washington D.C. The move, he said, will facilitate better communications and cooperation between the agencies involved.

The space-based infrared system network of satellites is meant to replace the aging defense support program, part of the nation's defense against strategic missile launches. Mr. Teets said the capability the new system provides far exceeds that of the older satellite program.

"DSP has the capability to detect a strategic missile launch," Mr. Teets said. "(SBIRS), when it gets into orbit, will provide capability to do that job and more."

Mr. Teets said the new system can calculate state vectors for where strategic missiles are going, will look into a theater battle space and identify when short-range ballistic missiles are launched, will pick up scud missile launches, and can identify fighter aircraft when they turn on their afterburner.

"(SBIRS) is an order of magnitude capability over what DSP would have been," he said.

The new program also has faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill. The program went over its initial budget of about $4 billion. Today, the total cost of the program is nearly $10 billion. Mr. Teets said improper structuring of the program and technical problems with satellite sensors caused the cost overages.

Besides space, Mr. Teets said the biggest challenge facing the Air Force in the near future is the recapitalization of its assets. Nearly all the aircraft, including the space assets, will have to be replaced in the next 15 to 20 years.

"Clearly at the top of that list is the tanker issue," Mr. Teets said. "Our tanker average age is 45 years. You don't fly on 45-year-old commercial airplanes, that's for sure. But we provide an air bridge with 45-year-old tankers."

Mr. Teets credits maintainers and depots for maintaining the KC-135 Stratotanker so the Air Force can maintain the air bridge between the United States and Europe and forward-deployed locations.

Recapitalization affects more than tankers, he said. The service must also work to recapitalize fighter and airlift aircraft, as well as space systems.

"We have tankers, and not too far behind are fighters," he said. "We are flying F-15 (Eagles) that are 30 years old. And we have lift requirements. It's true the C-17 (Globemaster III) is a remarkable aircraft, but the mobility requirements we find ourselves in are pressing. And don't forget about space. ... All of those efforts are going to put pressure on the budget."

One effort to recapitalize the fighter fleet includes the F/A-22 Raptor program. That program recently was cut in the presidential budget, but Mr. Teets said this year's Quadrennial Defense Review will re-emphasize the Air Force's need for a modern fighter aircraft.

"The (budget) cut back the number of F/A-22s that would be bought ... to about 180," he said. "That will be addressed in the QDR. The Air Force has said there is a need in the long term for 381 F/A-22s, and it had quite a strong analytical underpinning that will talk about why 381 F/A-22s are needed to support 10 (air and space expeditionary forces) and deliver the kind of combat capability we are going to need in the long-term future."

Mr. Teets said the Air Force's future total-force concept predicts that the Raptor is destined to replace many fighter aircraft, as well as attack aircraft already in the fleet.

"(The concept) envisions a time out there when 381 F/A-22s could replace all 750 F-15s, plus all 50 or 60 F-117 (Nighthawks), plus some portion of the A-10 (Thunderbolt IIs)," he said. "There is a smart way of doing this, which will end up with a more capable Air Force with fewer aircraft. That's what QDR is going to be all about."

In the last year, both the Air Force and one of the service's primary defense contractors have undergone much scrutiny for ethics related issues -- mostly because of improper conduct with contract negotiation. Mr. Teets said he believes the focus on those activities has heightened awareness of business ethics, and that it has had an effect across the aerospace industry.

"There is a lot of strong attention being given across the industry to ethical conduct and behavior," he said. "What Boeing has been through ... has certainly been observed by other companies in the industry and probably has stimulated them to accentuate their own internal ethics programs. In that sense, we probably have stronger ethical behavior and programs within our industry than what we have had before.

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